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A return to the roots, Legalization for All

Commentary by Sean Orr |
February 14, 2014
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During a visit to Capitol Hill, Feb. 3, the leadership of United We Dream (UWD), the largest network of Dreamer (undocumented youth) organizations in the U.S., announced that they might be willing to support the Republican Party’s new "Principles for Immigration Reform," if it meant that a bill would pass.

No, this does not mean that the Republicans have suddenly changed their colors when it comes to immigration. In fact, the Principles for Immigration Reform that they released last month reveal that the Republicans have not budged an inch from their reactionary stance. In fact, a week later the Republican congressional leadership announced that there is little chance of immigration reform this year.

Congressional Republicans versions of immigration reform stick to the same reactionary policies: the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and a “zero tolerance policy” to anyone attempting to cross in the future; the nationalization of e-verify (employment verification), with the purpose of making it nearly impossible for an undocumented immigrant to find work; the creation of a guest worker program; and a denial of citizenship to the undocumented - unless they arrived as children and complete a complicated and costly process.

Republican immigration reform is not reform at all - it is an overhaul of our system in a way that serves the interests of the wealthy and chokes the interests of undocumented workers. If e-verify were to exist in every workplace in the country, tens of millions of undocumented workers in this country would have to go to incredible extremes simply to put food on the table. The status quo is better than Republican ‘reform.’

There is nothing progressive about Republican plans to force undocumented workers further into the shadows. These are the millions who filled the streets of America’s cities on May Day 2006--the Day Without Latinos. These same workers are fighting workplace raids and play an integral role in the movement for immigrant rights. A guest worker program will only add to the woes of immigrant workers, putting workers and families in the hands of big businesses that only seek to work them for all the labor they can get (at the cheapest costs) before sending them back to their home country.

So why are some student Dreamers voicing cautious support for these principles? It is not because of some rightward swing in the leadership of our movement. Rather, it is a move made from a position of practicality and desperation, and a move only too well understood by many organizers in a movement that has suffered numerous setbacks.

In 2010, the DREAM Act failed by five votes in Congress, never to be resurrected.

Then last year, the Senate immigration reform bill passed - and it contained many of the evils proposed by Republicans, but also offered a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants. It died in the House of Representatives.

In response to pressure from the movement, President Obama issued an executive order offering Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for undocumented youth who meet strict parameters. DACA offers work relief and suspension of deportations for a chunk of the 11 million undocumented. While the DACA is a step forward, we want President Obama to expand this program to include all parents and adults--“Deferred Action for All”. When President Obama signs Deferred Action for All, he will be signing to keep families together and halt their pain and suffering.

While Congress plays political games, 1100 people are deported from the U.S. every day. Since Obama took office in 2009, nearly 2 million families were forced to suffer the traumatic pain of deportation. This reality is nothing short of criminal and creates a cloud of brutal repression over every immigrant community in the country.

Mass deportations are a national tragedy for us; but they are a major victory for the 1%. Looking at it strategically, deportations hold back one of our generation’s most dynamic and militant mass movements from achieving advances in social justice and equality. One cannot argue that the country’s rich and powerful do not benefited from the panic and chaos that these deportations cause. So long as 1100 people are deported daily from the U.S., immigrant communities will continue to live in fear and undocumented workers will fear to demand higher wages. 1100 daily deportations means the immigrant rights movement is stuck in the mud, in a daily struggle to respond to the latest atrocity. Every time the movement tries to take a step forward - the DREAM Act, DACA, elements of CIR [Comprehensive Immigration Reform] - we are hit over the head with the reality that more than a thousand of our people just left us. It is a daily beat down that nags at the hearts and minds of every organizer in the movement.

But we cannot despair, for now is the time to advance our struggle. Deportations need to end, and any attempt made by the movement to halt individual or mass deportations is a worthy fight. Time and time again, the movement performs civil disobediences outside ICE offices and in front of buses filled to the brim with people on their way to the Mexican border. The movement sends organizers into detention centers across the country to organize hunger strikes and gather information on conditions within these privately owned prisons. These actions need to continue and be amped up. Militancy is not simply a tactic anymore - it is a necessity if we are to survive.

With one arm of the movement defending our people, the other arm must advance the struggle locally. The government does not represent our interests, nor do the agendas of the Republicans and the Democrats, both parties of the 1%. We must return to the roots, work from where our communities are at, and lead them to new levels of struggle with clear demands.

Families cannot continue to be separated, so we must make it harder for this to happen. Drivers licenses for all can keep the undocumented a step ahead of the police, ensuring that they will not be deported simply for driving to work or trying to pick up their children from school. Racist discriminatory laws such as SB-1070 in Arizona need to be resisted, turned back, and a stake driven through their heart, never to rise again.

Undocumented workers need to be defended - they deserve the right to work, the right to organize, and the right to live without fear of deportation.

Undocumented college students need in-state tuition, a basic demand for equality. In short, we need to fight for freedom, an immediate freedom that is both liberating and empowering. Whatever can be gained on the local level must be gained without haste.

The Legalization for All Network, one of the newest national networks to emerge in the movement, is growing rapidly as it calls for an end to the militarization of the border, the defense of undocumented workers, and an end to all deportations. Legalization is the basic demand of the masses. It allows those who want citizenship to achieve it, while everyone with residency can live with equality and security. Remember how powerful the 2006 mega-marches were? Let’s make the politicians and Wall Street respond to us. If we as a movement advocate for these positions, and defend them and advance them through the people’s struggles, then we will have firm footing from which we can carry the struggle forward to levels we cannot even imagine today.

 

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